Do you know where you're going to?
Do you like the things that life is showing you
Where are you going to?
Do you know...?
— Diana Ross, 1975
We could ask ourselves these questions after we listened to all three debates and digested the manifestos, leading up to the election on December 29th. Indeed these questions are critical ones we need to answer before we place our "X" on Election Day.
This is one of the disappointments I had after the debates, as they seemed to be anti-climatic. True, they got progressively better, starting with the disastrous youth debate, but can anyone honestly say that after listening to the debates we know where we are going to?
What we know after the debates is what we knew before. We know that it is necessary for the country to maintain its fiscal discipline and extend the IMF agreement; public sector, tax and pension reform is going to be critical going forward; there must be a real focus on quality and access to education; there must be continued focus on governance and corruption; energy costs must be reduced; bureaucracy is a major inhibitor that must be addressed; the justice system needs to be reformed; the debt and productivity issues must be addressed.
Prime minister Andrew Holness and Opposition leader Portia Simpson-Miller during the leadership debate on Tuesday.
We knew all that before the debates and it seems as if that is all we still know after. One of the major problems is that the Debates Commission did the country a disservice with the format of the debates, which they tried to correct in the last one (which improved it somewhat). The fact, though, is that it didn't seem as if the debates were designed to unearth any additional information and direction for Jamaicans, but were designed just to appease the need for debates to be held. So I would think that more blame for the failure is at the feet of the Debates Commission than the participants. After all, the participants only answered what was asked and didn't have to worry about much follow-through because of the format.
So as a country we need to seek our answers elsewhere. Let me pause to congratulate Peter Bunting and Danville Walker for hosting their own local debate, which is a really progressive move.
I think we could get more information from the manifestos, which give a pretty comprehensive view into the thinking of both parties. And both parties must be congratulated for coming out with such comprehensive documents in such a short time, as both do show a clear understanding of what the issues are and lay a foundation for more specifics.
They do attempt to answer the question posed above, that is "do you know where you're going to?" They do include very detailed descriptions of where they want to take the country, by looking not only at general policy issues but some specifics as to what is to be done to achieve those policy objectives. I think the JLP document includes more specifics, but the PNP document communicates better and emphasises more consultation.
The JLP places greater emphasis on private sector-led growth; as opposed to the PNP that emphasises more government-led growth. Interestingly though, on the important matter of energy, the JLP seems to prefer a more involved state solution unlike the PNP that emphasises a market competition model.
Even so, I feel that neither document directly addresses the real structural issue with the economy but does so in a roundabout manner.
So if the time spent on the debates had been spent focusing on analysis and discussion of the manifestos, it would have had greater benefit to the understanding of where both parties want to take us. The truth is that there is not much policy difference between both parties, as is expected because our options are very limited, and so what is important for us to understand is who can better take us to our goal, as we have suffered in the past from an almost deceitful relationship of broken promises, much like a dejected spouse.
This takes me to the main criticism of both manifestos. They are too long and because of this length they fail to communicate an overarching vision to the electorate. Their failure to provide an executive summary has left the reader without a framework of the vision of the manifestos. They seem to be an attempt to provide something for everyone, and so have talked about everything under the sun in the attempt to satisfy everyone. But by doing so they lost the direction and emphasis of the policies.
So the manifestos do a better job of telling us where we are going to, but because of the disorganised presentation and the amount of information, we are not sure of how we will get there.
What was needed was a statement of general objectives, which the PNP document sought to do, but this should be around a central theme of development. And the documents did mention the main areas of focus at the start, but the way the rest was written veered from the stated emphases. In other words, if they were answering exam questions the body and conclusion of the answer would not connect with the introduction.
This is not difficult to correct, however, and it would be a good strategy for both parties to summarise the main points and present them to the electors, who are more concerned in this election about "what are you going to do for me?" than "what have you done for me lately?". The latter seems to be where some of the old-style politicians want to focus - including the awful youth debate, which surprisingly had more old-style politics and inaccuracies than the two latter debates.
So since the debates have failed to deliver, my suggestion is that we go to the manifestos, which provide a lot more information and only need some more attention paid to wading through much of the unnecessary and repetitive content.
To all my readers, have a happy holiday.